Once before has Larraín torn back the curtain of a dynastic dream life to find a nightmare there instead, and gone searching for the real person behind the famous woman behind the famous man. But his Jackie benefitted from the gut-wrenching urgency of the news it covered, and the arrestingly, disorientingly subjective lens through which it viewed them. Spencer is stuck in that big house, and with a psychological profile that reads like a list of tabloid fixations: the struggles with bulimia (those famous Sandringham toilets do make an appearance after all) and self-harm; the spats with an icy, highly divorceable Charles (Jack Farthing); biopic-mandated family baggage. The film can regard the whispers of Diana “cracking up” as ruthless gossip, while still indulging them through cameos by the specter of Anne Boleyn and hallucinations of Diana’s lone confidante (Sally Hawkins) among the help.

It all stinks of Steven Knight, the British screenwriter of Locked Down, Locke, and some films without “locke” in the title, who never met a theme he couldn’t work out endlessly for us. Every character in Spencer seems in danger of unpacking the full significance of their existence aloud. “There has to be two of you,” one Sandringham staffer tells Diana, helpfully defining the public-private duality of her role. Later, the Queen herself pops by to explain that you don’t just appear on currency, you are currency. When the dialogue doesn’t do the heavy lifting, there’s a scarecrow or an old jacket or a flock of pheasants or another old house over the hill to shoulder it. The film feels pre-analyzed, its ideas all laid out as neatly as the spread at the royal Christmas dinner.

Photo: NEON

Spencer’s arc is of liberation: By the end, Diana—literally born into nobility, but never mind—stands like a defiant pillar of realness, facing down the barrels of her stilted, stifling relatives by marriage. It’s very nearly slobs versus snobs, complete with a bucket of unpretentious (and un-regurgitated) KFC and Mike + The Mechanics on the radio, a rejoinder to that stuffy string quartet playing over supper. Spencer is never intentionally so funny, though it does hint at the absurdities of royal life a more mischievous filmmaker might make a yuletide feast out of: a line of dogs exiting a limo, the tradition of weighing guests to make sure they’ve put on three pounds of holiday “enjoyment,” etc.

One is left to admire the textures, the way Larraín at once delivers and undercuts the glamour of his extravagant setting. Spencer was shot on celluloid by Portrait Of A Lady On Fire’s Claire Mathon, and it has a sometimes gauzy, beatific glow that suits Diana’s feelings of drowning in decorum, the rules enveloping her as surely as the billowy dresses it’s insisted she wears. Larraín has also commissioned a typically hypnotic score from Jonny Greenwood, whose almost free-jazz noodling here might be better suited to a wilder, less cleanly managed character study. Or at least one that found a better window into the haunted house of Diana’s head.